Body Language and Its Role in Your Collegiate Success

November 4, 2012 | Jude Patrick Massillon

Talented high school athletes are overlooked during the collegiate interview process, but why? Body language plays a major role in the success of your meetings with potential coaches. You've worked hard for many years, and now is your time to show that you belong, can compete and are willing to work hard. (Study up: College Athletics Recruiting 101.)

There are several keys to marketing yourself so that college coaches will have a positive opinion of you. Apply them properly and your chances of playing a collegiate sport will dramatically increase. Don't let little things deter you from realizing your dream of becoming a collegiate student-athlete.

Essentially, your first meeting with a coach is a job interview followed by an opportunity to negotiate a deal. You need to make sure you show the coach that you mean business, you're passionate and are of like mind.

First impressions happen within a tenth of a second and are based on a cluster of cues and behaviors. So what should you convey through your body language when making a first impression?

  • Dress. Make sure your tie is straight, your shirt is tucked in and there is no food in your teeth.
  • Communication. Experts say 55 percent of communication is non-verbal. When you do speak, use a confident, authoritative and positive tone of voice. But you must also communicate with non-verbal cues. Sit up straight, square your shoulders and make your facial expression convey alertness and enthusiasm.
  • Eye Contact. Maintain eye contact at least 70 percent of the time. This shows respect.
  • Handshake. There are three types of handshakes. The "fish" is too soft and shows apathy. The "macho" is too hard and bold. The "firm" is in between the two and just right for your purposes.
  • Smile. Simply smile in a non-flirtatious way, devoid of suggestion.

Dr. O'Connor, a body language expert, suggests arriving early and walking around the building or parking lot a few times until you feel relaxed. This will give you the opportunity to focus, prepare to show interest, and go over your game plan.

What must you do to show interest?

Dr. O'Connor suggests the following:

  • No Displacement. Don't play with your glasses, ring, necklace or (especially!) your phone. Keep that turned off and in your pocket or bag. It should not be visible. This shows complete respect for the time the coach is giving you as well as respect for yourself and your goals.
  • No Fidgeting. Don't move around in your seat or touch your face or hair repeatedly. It's best to sit with your hands in your lap and present good posture. Slouching never conveys  a good impression.
  • Positioning. When seated, line yourself up torso to torso with the coach. Another key is to fold your legs in the same position as the coach, when appropriate. This shows congruence, essentially that you're on the same page.
  • Questioning. Ask questions on your walk-through with a student or the coach. Do not get distracted by anyone's attractiveness. You are here for a business meeting.
  • Head Cant. Use good posture and keep your neck long but with a slight tilt of the head. This shows interest and attentiveness. A little nod of agreement when appropriate never hurts.

What happens if the meeting is going wrong?

Find something to break the cycle. For instance:

  • Ask to use the bathroom; even say you're feeling sick if you have to. Think of it as a turnover, and take the opportunity to change the game.
  • Pick up a football or other inanimate object from coach's desk. Ask him if it's OK first.

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